Friday, December 30, 2005

Roberts Doing Well

CNN has an article that Chief Justice Roberts wins early praise. While it's too early to tell judicial philosophy, he's smart, fair, and as brought a welcome lighter atmosphere to the court.

"The change has been amazing, the justices are a happy bunch again," said one court official, who asked not to be identified. "They joke in arguments, they joke among themselves privately. The chief was just the type of man this place needed."

Thursday, December 29, 2005

I'm Back

My trip was very good, more details to come. I did have some tech problems since getting home. First when I downloaded my digial pictures I noticed about 10% were cut off. It's as if not all the image was stored. My best guess is the SD card is corrupt. It's an ATP 130x 1GB card. I'll try a different card but if anyone has any hints, I'd appreciate them. My other problem was with my PowerBook. I used it last night (uploading pictures, checking mail). I put it to sleep and then this morning it wouldn't turn on. No chime, nothing on the screen, nothing. I took it to the Genius Bar at my local Apple Store (which was mobbed), the guy plugged it in and turned it on and it just worked. I felt dumb, but was glad it worked.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Another Hiatus

Sorry for the lack of new posts, but I leave tomorrow for a vacation that I've been busy preparing for. It will be my first cruise. I'll try to write good trip report when I return. Happy Holidays.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Iraq and the American Revolution

Yesterday Bush spoke about Iraq. He said:

"The eight years from the end of the Revolutionary War to the election of a constitutional government were a time of disorder and upheaval. There were uprisings, with mobs attacking courthouses and government buildings. There was a planned military coup that was defused only by the personal intervention of General Washington. In 1783, Congress was chased from this city by angry veterans demanding back-pay, and they stayed on the run for six months. There were tensions between the mercantile North and the agricultural South that threatened to break apart our young republic. And there were British loyalists who were opposed to independence and had to be reconciled with America's new democracy.

Our founders faced many difficult challenges -- they made mistakes, they learned from their experiences, and they adjusted their approach. Our nation's first effort at governing -- a governing charter, the Articles of Confederation, failed. It took years of debate and compromise before we ratified our Constitution and inaugurated our first president. It took a four-year civil war, and a century of struggle after that, before the promise of our Declaration was extended to all Americans."

As a friend put it: "Correct me if I am wrong, but wasn't the American Revolution an example of a country forcibly expelling an occupying force?"

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Bush Advisor Says Katrina Has Fallen Off the Radar

On Meet the Press today, Mike Allen of the Washington Post said A presidential advisor told me that issue has fallen so far off the radar screen, you can’t find it.

He prefaced it by saying: "You go to the White house home page, there’s Barney camp, there’s Social Security, there’s Renewing Iraq. Where’s renewing New Orleans?" Well if you look there now the top listed issue is Hurricane Relief. Though the last major item is "President Tours Hurricane Wilma Damage in Florida" dated Oct 27, 2005. In the smaller "Speeches and News Releases section there's an item from Nov 20 saying Bush made more disaster assistance to Mississippi.

Harry Shearer has some more at the Huffington Post.

Think Progress ended their coverage by asking: "Why does this president seem more interested in rebuilding Iraq than rebuilding America?"

Voice Of God Revealed To Be Cheney On Intercom

The Onion reports that the Voice of God Revealed to be Cheney on Intercom. It doesn't get any better than this.

A Profile of Zarqawi

Here's a very interesting profile of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. There's much more detail in the article, but here's my rough take:

He had a misspent youth in Jordan, a drop out, a gang member, a drunk, and a bully. He went to prison for drugs and sexual assault. When we got out he went to Afghanistan to be a mujahideen in 1989 but the Soviets had already left and there was no one to fight. He wandered around and returned to Jordan in '93. He was arrested in '94 for creating a jihadist group and sentenced to 15 years though got out in '99.

It was during this second imprisonment that he exercised constantly and learned the Koran. In 2000 he met bin Laden but didn't care about fighten America, only local Arab regimes. Instead of joining al Qaeda he setup his own terrorist training camp in Afghanistan with funding from the Taliban. When the Taliban fell, he fled to Iraqi Kurdistan. In the fall of 2001 US found out about Zarqawi from Kurdish secret services and then asked Jordan about him. Then joint US-Jordanian investigations charged him with being involved in various terrorist acts but presented no hard evidence.

Funny thing about not presenting evidence, it's not clear if he was actually involved or if it was convenient for all sides to merely accuse him of it. Colin Powell mentioned him in his Feb 2003 speech to the UN Security Council. "Iraq today harbors a deadly terrorist network headed by Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, an associated in collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaida lieutenants." During this time, Zarqawi assumed the US would invade and take Iraq and then he would attack them. He started in Aug 2003, months after the Shiite insurgency had started.

Between Aug 2003 and Dec 2004 he corresponded with bin Laden. Zarqawi sought legitimacy since he lacked any religious authority. Zarqawi's goal was to keep the Sunnis and Shiites separated or else it would turn into a nationalistic struggle which would cut out his foreign jihadists. In Dec 2004, bin Laden called Zarqawi "brother".

It seems clear from this article, he wasn't attacking us until we attacked him. And we've been attacking a lot of people who didn't attack us first. The article ends with: "In a sense, it is the very things that make Zarqawi seem most ordinary--his humble upbringing, misspent youth, and early failures--that make him most frightening. Because, although he may have some gifts as a leader of men, it is also likely that there are many more 'Zarqawis' capable of filling his place."

Ex-Googlers Blogging

Xooglers is a blog by some ex-Google employees. Pretty interesting stories of what life is like working there. Just started in Nov, so it's not too hard to get caught up.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Bush Threatens U.N. Over Clinton Climate Speech

I have no idea if this is true, but New York Magazine reports that when the Bush administration found out that Bill Clinton was going to speak at the UN Climate Change Conference, they treatened to never sign the Kyoto Accord unless they stop Clinton's speech. As the story goes, Clinton thought this was crazy but didn't want to be the cause of the US not signing so he backed out. But the UN didn't want that, convinced Clinton to speak and called the administration's bluff. The UN said that Bush's aides "backed off and indicated that Clinton’s appearance wouldn’t in fact have adverse diplomatic consequences."

So stupid things do happen, but whatever staffer made the threat, should have some repercussions. If it was Bush himself, well then, he's not fit to serve.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Cenk Uygur Reaches His Limit

While I think some of Cenk Uygur's rhetoric is a bit strong, I think his basic premise is right "How bad do these people have to be before your conscience kicks in?". If you still support this administration what will it take for you to not do so? While the administration skirted around on the details, we captured people, tortured them, used faulty evidence to start a "pre-emptive" war, while knowing it was faulty. Oh and we're still lying about it (Cheney still claiming there was an Iraq/al Qaeda link).

Bush watches West Wing Reruns

According to this, Bush has been watching reruns of West Wing on Bravo. I guess he's not all bad. I hope he's learning something.

Incompetent Design

Don Wise, professor emeritus of geosciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, has come up with a new meaning for the acronym ID. He points out all the flaws in the design of humans and thinks "Incompetent Design" is a better description. E.g., our pelvis points forward (like other apes) and the only reason we stand erect is because of a sharp bend in our spines; there are too many teeth to fit in our mouth; the drainage system in our face is crazy; we have an appendix that does nothing, etc. His point being, no engineering student would intentionally design us as we are Here's an interview with him.

The states of scientific education

Ars Technica reports on the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation's report on The State of State Science Standards 2005. From the summary:

* 19 states rate an A or B rating (this is >50% of the school population)
* 16 states rate a C or D
* 15 states rate an F
* Iowa is not counted as it does not publish science standards.

The last such evaluation was in 2000. While the ratings of many states changed, overall the trend is close to flat (the number of A and B's stayed the same, but the number of F's increased). No Child Left Behind indeed. It's a good thing in 2000 we choose "The Education President". So what has he done?

New Research Proves HDTV Still Fuzzy for Consumers

I've had an HDTV for about 3 years. The picture from my Tivo looked good and a progressive scan DVD player was a big improvement. I got an HD cable box a little over a year ago to see the Summer Olympics in Hi Def. They were a bit disappointing in that they didn't show too much in HD and it was delayed, which not what you want for the Olympics. I'm still waiting for a Tivo that works with comcast HDTV (I know, it should be out first half of next year). I do watch some shows live (as opposed to Tivo) because they look so good in HD.

Now I know setting up HD is a little complicated between an HD capable set, an HD source, and use of HD capable cables, but this article says that many people buy an HDTV and don't even know they need something else (a different cable box with a subscription to HD channels, satellite, over-the-air receiver) to get real HD programming. How do you spend several thousand dollars and not understand what you're getting?

The Blowfly Alarm Clock

This might be the most annoying thing ever. Move Over MIT, The Blowfly Alarm Clock has a separate piece that can hover. When the alarm goes off, this piece takes off, flies around the room and makes noise. To stop it you have to catch it in mid air and put it down in the base station. Sounds really annoying. But it doesn't smell like bacon.

A number of people have asked me what the best thing about not working is. I think it's that I haven't used an alarm clock in almost a year. I wake up when I wake up. :)

New digital camera chip slashes power consumption 50x

I recent got a new toy. To replace my old 2 megapixel digital Elph I bought a new Canon S80. I still wanted something that fit in a pocket and this seemed to be the best around. I also picked up an ATP 133x 1GB SD card for $95. I'll be playing with it on my upcoming vacation.

But of course, today engadget announces that two researchers at the University of Rochester have a prototype of a new digital camera chip slashes power consumption 50x. So I guess I should expect better cameras in about 2 years. But that would have happened anyway.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Roberts Pens First Opinion as Chief Justice reports on Robert's first opinion for the court. It was unanimous, straightforward, and very quick. "Roberts neatly managed to cite both of the judges he clerked for."

Here's another fun bit:
One of the relevant precedents in the case was a 1968 case called Newman v. Piggie Park Enterprises. When one of the lawyers at argument referred to the case by the shorthand Piggie Park, Scalia interrupted and said, only half-jokingly, "You know, it really would improve the dignity of this Court if we referred to Piggie Park as Newman." Without apology, Roberts referred to the case throughout his opinion Wednesday as Piggie Park.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Murtha responds to Lieberman.

Think Progress reports on an Murtha's comments to a Lieberman statement.

Apparently Lieberman yesterday: “It is time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge that he will be commander in chief for three more critical years and that in matters of war we undermine presidential credibility at our nation’s peril.” Which to me just sounds like the Twilight Zone.

Murtha today replied: “Undermining his credibility? What has he said that would give him credibility?”

Murtha also let it slip that the military will ask for another $100 Billion for Iraq next year.

Perilocity: Mass. opens DOC

Mass. opens DOC is another site that agrees with me on MA's requirement to use ODF in public records.

Bruce Schneier doesn't endorse it, but merely points out that MS's claim that ODF is less secure is merely FUD (as usual).

Civilian Worker Data Kept Secret

The Boston Globe reports Civilian Worker Data Kept Secret. Yet another example of how the Bush administration is trying to be the most secret in history. "Since [2003], all records of civilian employees of the Defense Department have been withheld and name and duty locations were withheld for an estimated 150,000 other civilian workers. TRAC, a research group from Syracuse University, has been getting this info via FOIA since 1989.

The Globe article says a tradition of openness goes back to 1816 but I'm not sure what that's referring to. The worst part is that the government doesn't even offer an explanation. We're not going to tell and we're not going to tell you why. Democracy indeed.

Family Guy Origins

Google Video has The Life of Larry by Seth McFarlane. It's a 10 minute short that Family Guy was based on.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

A Nomination in Trouble?

I like what People For the American Way stands for, but A Nomination in Trouble on is a very biased piece against Alito. Still it's useful as a list of the things that will undoubtedly come up in Jan.

Many of the items in question come from his 1985 job application to the position of Deputy Assistant to Attorney General Edwin Meese, which he held from 1985-1987. Alito has said that it was a job application so you shouldn't give it too much weight to his own opinions, others retort that that in and of itself doesn't speak highly of him. Then again, it was 20 years ago, and aren't you supposed to do things like tailor your resume for specific jobs?

I've already written about his decisioin in Casey. Unfortunately most of the article's I've seen aren't as balanced (if I do say so myself). I still haven't been able to find the 3rd Circuit's decision and would like to.

Anyway, it's good that stuff is coming out. I'll reserve judgement until the hearings.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The Education President

The Chicago Tribune reported two weeks ago that Colleges Find Many Lacking. High Schools are not doing a great job at preparing students for college. I don't think you can blame Bush for this, but he did want to be the education president. What's he done to improve education?

Venezuela's Low-Cost Oil Plan Fuels Debate

The Los Angeles Times reports Venezuela's Low-Cost Oil Plan Fuels Debate Venezuela is supplying cheap (40% below market price) oil to MA to help with the high heating costs this winter. Seems like a nice thing to do.

Venezuela is run by President Hugo Chavez who has socialist tendencies, likes Castro and hates Bush. This may well be a stunt to tweak Bush. Or it may be foreign aid to cover for the effects of Katrina. As a spokesman for former Rep. Joe Kennedy said: "If we applied a democratic screen to countries we get our oil from, we'd never have enough oil to heat our homes and drive our cars." What's Bush done for us lately?

More Snow Art

Here's another, though I don't think it's Calvin & Hobbes:

Calvin and Hobbes Snow Art Gallery

We've had our first snow fall with more expected tomorrow. Seems like a good time to point you at the Calvin and Hobbes Snow Art Gallery. I wish I were this creative as a kid.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

TSA Announces Security Screening Changes

I'm not sure how I feel about the new TSA changes for what you can bring aboard a plane. I think security professionals are ok with the changes. Politicians, stewardesses, and air marshalls are against.

Bob Hesselbein, the pilot union's national security committee chairman, put it well. "A Swiss army knife in the briefcase of a frequent flyer we know very well is a tool. A ballpoint pen in the hands of a terrorist is a weapon." The absurdity comes out quickly. The only items banned by law (so this is Congress's doing) are lighters, out of fear of lighting a bomb. But matches are ok to bring aboard and are not detectable by electronic means.

Sure you can ban many seemingly reasonable things but weapons can be made out of many items, knitting needles, guitar strings, pens, etc. My favorite story was from someone flying business class shortly after 9/11. They normally get metal silverware, but the knives had been replaced by plastic. But there was still a metal fork.

At issue is that cargo is still not screened, that needs to be fixed. Cockpit doors have been secured, many pilots are armed, and there are air marshalls on many flights. It seems that planes won't be used as weapons as they were on 9/11. Now it's a matter of how much inconvenience we want.

North Carolina Illegally Certifies Diebold E-voting System

The EFF reports that North Carolina Illegally Certifies Diebold E-voting System. It's actually three companies that were certified: Diebold, Sequoia Voting Systems, and Election Systems & Software. At issue was whether they could escrow the source code used and identify the programmers. None could do so. "Diebold claimed that it could not comply because of its reliance on third-party software." The law says NC needed to reject all applicants and put it out for bid again, instead they approved all applicants.

Honestly, the law seems reasonable and shouldn't be that difficult to achieve. "Nebraska-based Election Systems & Software -- has publicly stated that it is capable of meeting the escrow requirement for the code used it its system."

Saturday, December 03, 2005

FBI's IT Failure

The IEEE magazine Spectrum has an interesting story Who Killed the Virtual Case File?, about the troubles the FBI had upgrading their antiquated computer systems. Seems all to common and really sad.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Bush Concerned about US Propaganda in Iraq

The BBC reports that "The White House has expressed concern over reports that the US military is planting favourable stories about Iraq in the Baghdad press." I'm a little confused about the issue.

"The Los Angeles Times alleged that stories about Iraq were written by US soldiers, and translated into Arabic by a defence contractor which helps place them in Baghdad papers." This sounds okay to me. I'd think you'd want an occupying army to communicate with the citizens.

"Although many are basically factual, they only present one side of events and omit information that might reflect poorly on the US or Iraqi government, the newspaper said." Well this is clearly more troubling. Given this level of info I think it could go either way if it's legit or if it crossed the line to propaganda. But if I had to place a bet...

Have You Heard The One About TSA?

James Boyce writes in The Huffington Post about his recent Logan airport security experiences. It's really depressing. His description makes them sound useless.

Cheney's Travelgate

The Center for Public Integrity reports that the Office of the Vice President is behaving differently than the rest of the White House with regards to travel, even differently from the President.

Cheney and his staff, like many in the government, travel to conferences, think tanks, trade organizations, etc. Often the organization covers all the travel expenses as reimbursements to the government. Under law, the government must disclose where they went, what it cost and who paid. But we all know how much Cheney loves secrecy. So, rather than disclose what trips they take, they don't accept the reimbursement and we, the taxpayers, foot the bill.

But it goes further than that. "In [2002] letters to the Office of Government Ethics, David Addington [(then VP counsel, now Chief of Staff)] writes that the Office of the Vice President is not classified as an agency of the executive branch and is therefore not required to issue reports on travel, lodging and related expenses funded by non-federal sources. The letters go on to say that neither the vice president nor his staff had accepted any non-federal payments for travel during the period, and that the office is making that limited disclosure as 'a matter of comity.'"

Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, D.C. says "The vice president’s refusal to provide this information, particularly when every other office in the White House voluntarily discloses its travel, suggests that he may be hiding something.”

Or maybe Cheney really is a Sith Lord.

The Great Canadian Mileage Run 2005

Remember the guy who bought 12,150 cups of Healthy Choice chocolate pudding to get frequent flyer miles? This wasn't just a subplot in Punch-Drunk Love it was true. Well, Marc Tacchi just did something similar.

He bought an Air Canada North America Unlimited Pass for $7,000 (Canadian) which allowed him unlimited travel within the continent between October 1 and November 30. He spent 56 of 61 days in the air and racked up over 1,000,000 mileage points. For that he gets about $70,000 (Canadian) in free tickets.

He of course blogged his experiences. You can read about the the good meals (his beloved pot roast and the fabulous fruit plate) and the bad (breakfast omelets, asian vegetarian and the childs meal) as well as the A321 seats which he repeatedly describes as "medieval torture devices". What was the first inflight movie he saw? Crash, which he (like me) loved. Though I'm surprised they showed it on a plane with that title (even though it has nothing to do with planes).

New Subway Map

Here's an interesting description of Oskar Karlin's redesign of the classic London Tube Map. He took an interesting approach of basing line length on travel time instead of distance. Nice page with various pics during the development process.

Will Iraq Protect Us?

I still have to read the President's new pamphlet on how we'll win in Iraq. I promise I will soon.

William M. Arkin in the Washington Post writes an article called Bush's Victory is Defeat. In he describes a variety of things but here's a key paragraph:
Look, it is the President who insists on labeling Iraq as "the central front in the global war on terror," as "an essential element in the long war against the ideology that breeds international terrorism." He says that "the fate of the greater Middle East -- which will have a profound and lasting impact on American security -- hangs in the balance." I don't buy either of these assumptions, but if the administration is serious in its rhetoric, isn't it strange that they are now saying that they are willing to leave Iraq before the insurgency is "defeated," that they are willing to entrust the security of THE UNITED STATES to a brand new, unknown, unproven, untested Iraqi military and police force?

I'm not sure if this is really catching them in a logical inconsistency or a bit of Arkin's own rhetoric. But I do think it's an interesting point.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Why is this News?

AP is reporting that Alito Once a Defendant in Crash Lawsuit. In 2000 his wife was in a car accident, he wasn't in the car, the other party sued. They settled out of court and that was that. Why is this news?

He properly reported it on his questionnaire under the "were you ever named in a lawsuit" (he was named as the owner of the car). So there isn't even a cover-up angle to this.

I don't get it. No wonder no one good wants to run for public office.

Government Rebuffed on Padilla

SCOTUSBlog writes Government rebuffed on Padilla. I honestly can't follow the article too well. It seems the 4th circuit is throwing out a previous rulling that was in the gov't's favor and allowing both sides to restate their case.

The comments to this article are quite good and many claim the article missed the point. On proposes an alternate title of: "Government gets chance to preview its case and acquire another precedent on the way to SCOTUS." Either way, should be interesting to see what happens.

Lynne Cheney Says Dick Never Connected Saddam to 9/11

Think Progress writes about Lynne Cheney's appearance on NPR's Diane Rehm Show (to hawk her new book A Time for Freedom. Cheney says neither the President or the Vice President have ever said there's a connection between 9/11 and Saddam. Obviously this isn't true, whether she's lying or ignorant I don't know.

This is a perfect example of how lame the media is today. Here's a clearly false statement and yet Rehm doesn't call it false and doesn't cite any examples. The best she can offer is "I think that a great many people perhaps have had the impression that that is something the President and vice president have done." Maybe it's easier to do for an article as opposed to an interview, but Rehm was the one who brought it up. Think Progress at least cites 3 quotes, so now I want to hear Lynne Cheney's response.

Embattled Diebold withdraws from NC

Engaget reports that Diebold withdraws from North Carolina. Apropos my previous post on them (regarding Ohio) and the MA requiring open document formats, it seems NC isn't allowing proprietary source code in the machines that record their citizens' votes. Good for them.

The link to the previous article showing that monkeys can hack the voting records, literally should really give people pause. has more info on many related issues.